Taking The Bad With The Good

I have spent this morning contemplating the ways in which life can be so good and so utterly awful at the same time. 

Life offers many wonderful experiences, opportunities and pleasures. Some of those are simple, some are constant, and others are once-in-a-lifetime events. Little things happen every day that can really blow your mind when you stop taking them for granted. 

One of my most constant joys is that I am blessed with wonderful friends. Sure, I’ve known the pain of broken friendships, and the shock of discovering someone who I thought was a friend was the exact opposite of that. But I am also enormously blessed and privileged, because I have some of the most amazingly loyal, loving, supportive, and caring friends on the planet.

At the same time, everyone in my circle of closest friends is struggling with something awful. There have been victories, there have been defeats. There are ongoing issues that don’t look as though there will be resolution or healing anytime soon. Those friends would all consider that I am in that same boat with my chronic pain and spinal health issues.

Everyone suffers something awful at some point in their life. The hard times are balanced and put into perspective by great days, wonderful experiences, and the love and encouragement of those near and dear to us.

Still, the news I received from one of my closest friends this morning was particularly devastating. She has taken this news the same way she has dealt with her entire battle against her illness: in true warrior style. Although her future is unsure, her faith and courage are not. I am so inspired by her attitude and her strength. 

I feel as though I am the complete opposite of that. I’m full of tears and anger and questions and fear. I cried more than she did during our phone call. There is no point in pretending though, because this is all part of the grief process and it’s not healthy for anyone to suppress any of that. 

I don’t know what the coming weeks or months hold, but I do know one thing: I don’t want her to die. I don’t want to be without her. And I know that is a sentiment shared by every member of the family and probably everyone who knows her. 

I am keenly aware of not putting the cart before the horse, and treating her as though she’s already on her death bed. Although painfully aware that is the likely outcome, I will keep hoping and praying reminding myself that it might not come to that because I do still believe in miracles. I want to make every opportunity, shared moment and experience count. We already have a lifetime of memories together, and because I treasure her and her friendship so much, I want to make more. They don’t have to be big or magical. They just have to be.

So, as far as is possible, I will embrace and make the most of the joys while never forgetting or praying against the bad. None of us knows the number of our days, but we can do everything in our power to make every one of them count. 

It’s not about denial. It’s all about focusing on the good while living with the bad. There are no rules against tears, or frustration, or hating on whatever hurts. The only thing I refuse to do is give in to it and let it steal what is good, too. 

PS: Please don’t feel sorry for me. I am truly blessed – just very human.

One Less Star.

A couple of years ago, a friend asked a question on Facebook: “What difference would it make if I wasn’t here anymore?”

I wrote this poem for him.

I also wrote it for those who had never asked me the question — well, not that I know of, at least — and left of their own accord.

Because it is Suicide Prevention Week worldwide, it’s a very appropriate time to share this poem with you. I hope it encourages you.

Just so you know, my friend stayed. And I’m very glad he did.

And if you’re ever in that situation, I hope you will stay, too.

©Promo X One Less Star plain

Tonight
Through the tears
That sprang from your pain
And fell from my eyes,
I looked into the sky
Where there was one less star shining,
And I wept for the world
Where life carries on
Just that bit darker
Than before
You left.

©2017 Joanne Van Leerdam

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img_3407This poem and fifty others are now published in a new collection: The Passing Of The Night.

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RU OK? World Suicide Prevention Day.

Today is RU OK Day, also known as World Suicide Prevention day.

This is an awareness very close to my heart.
I’m not going to expand on why, because I want the focus of this post to be positive and encouraging.

The message is important not just for today because it’s a special awareness day. This message is permanently, crucially important.

We need to take care of each other. Each of us is uniquely placed to offer support and encouragement to the people we know – friends, families, colleagues, students, whoever we cross paths with in our lives. That doesn’t mean we have to be their only support, although sometimes we might be just that. 

If you think someone is down, if they look tired or unwell, or notice they’re not taking care of themselves as well as they usually do, ask them if they are okay.  Don’t just ask as a throwaway question. Be willing to have a quality conversation that includes questions like:

  • What’s going on?
  • What do you need?
  • How can I help?
  • Is there someone I can contact for you?

Taking the time to check in with someone deliberately and thoughtfully is a powerful communication of care and concern. 

It’s important  to realise that you or I might be the one positive thing that happens in someone’s day. We might be the only source of encouragement and light that they encounter. 

We also need to consider the power of our words. A curt dismissal or snide remark in response to a comment that might actually be a true confession of desperation, depression or anxiety can be incredibly destructive. We should never, ever be making a joke of that. Yes, sometimes it is attention-seeking or needless drama— but sometimes it’s not. 

A kind word or message of encouragement could be the difference between someone actually deciding that now is the time to end their life, or not. 

I know. It’s a huge responsibility. 

But imagine a world where each of us gives someone that kind of support, and someone else gives it to us when we need it. 

And if you’re thinking you’ll never need it, stop right now and be very, very thankful for the blessings in your life and the comfort of good, stable mental health. It’s not possible to emphasise enough just how lucky you are. 

If you’re one of those who is struggling, or feeling like you’re drowning, or tired of treading water… please, please, talk to someone. Seek help. Look for reasons —  any reason — to stay.  Please stay.

I wrote this poem after one of the darkest seasons of my life thus far. I hope that you will gain both perspective and insight from reading it. 

Before you read this poem, there is somethingI would likeyou to know.

This poem is absolutely, 100% true. It is personal, it is painfully honest, and it tells of my own experience, not anyone else’s. And you may find it quite confronting.

Despite its darkness, it is written to be positive, not negative.

It was not written to win sympathy or make anyone feel guilt: it was written so that people might understand what’s in my head, and what I’ve been feeling, and why I’ve made the choices I have.

To answer your concerns: I have chosen to stay here and to defy all impulses that tempt me otherwise. I don’t always feel okay, I’m not always okay, but I will be okay.

For anyone in a similar position: hold on. Stay here. You matter more than you know.

Promo X Still Here Plain.jpeg

STILL HERE.

For a moment-
One fleeting, isolated point in time-

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Elegy in Times Square

Originally posted on Longreads:
Lily Burana | Longreads | January 2019 | 8 minutes (1,880 words) Before Disney sprinkled corporate fairy dust over Times Square and turned it family-friendly, Josef and I worked there. Not together, but at the same time. Not underage, but barely legal. He was a go-go boy at the Gaiety on…

This is a powerful and poignant piece of writing by Lily Burana via Longreads.

I found her writing to be vivid, full of colour and movement.

There was one line that really stood out to me: even though I have not shared the authors contexts and experiences, it struck me as holding the power of #metoo, watered by the tears of every victim of abuse, exploitation and oppression who looks back on their lives and wishes they could be different.

“Just because money makes you say Yes doesn’t mean the body doesn’t store No in its memory — as sorrow, as trauma.”

I, too, store trauma in this way, although my trauma has come from very different sources. In that sense, despite our different backgrounds and stories, her pain resonates with mine.

I recommend this essay, Elegy in Times Square, best read with an open mind and an empathetic soul.

Longreads

Lily Burana | Longreads | January 2019 | 8 minutes (1,880 words)

Before Disney sprinkled corporate fairy dust over Times Square and turned it family-friendly, Josef and I worked there. Not together, but at the same time. Not underage, but barely legal. He was a go-go boy at the Gaiety on 46th Street. I was a peep show girl at Peepland on 42nd. Those were dangerous days. Between crack, AIDS, heroin, and that old stand-by, booze, if you weren’t leveled, you were blessed, watched over by some dark angel. We believed we were among the lucky ones.

We didn’t have anything resembling guidance or even common sense to rely on. What we had was the dressing room tutelage of elders scarcely old enough to drink, and the backbone of every sex industry transaction — commodified consent. Customers grabbed whatever they could, based on whatever you were willing to endure. We…

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Mother’s Day, 2018: A Tribute To My Mother.

My mother was the most influential person in my development and career as a bookworm. 

Today is celebrated as Mother’s’ Day in Australia and many other places around the world. My mother passed away in 2011, but today I want to pay tribute to her as the most influential person in my development and career as a bookworm.

IMG_0035I inherited my love of books and reading from both my parents, but it was Mum who put the consistent effort in to enabling my reading habit.

I surprised my mother – and probably everyone else, now that I think of it – by being able to read when I was three years old. In a manner entirely consistent with how I would behave for the rest of my life, I picked her up on skipping words and sentences when she was reading to me. I can understand her doing that – I’ve read the same book to kids a bazillion times, too, and it does wear a little thin. Back then, though, I was probably morally outraged as only a three year old can be when they’re getting shortchanged on a favourite story. When I read back to her the story as it was written on the page, Mum thought I had merely memorised the whole thing. So she chose a new book for me, and I read that one to her, too.

From that time on, Mum was always enthusiastic and active in encouraging me to read widely, and spent many Saturday afternoons driving me to the library so that I could borrow enough books to keep me going for two weeks.

By the time I was ten, I had read all of her Agatha Christie books and many of my grandgather’s Perry Mason and James Bond books, and I had well-loved copies of the Narnia Chronicles and the “Little House” books on my own shelf.

It was then that Mum let me read the old copy of Anne of Green Gables that her own parents had given her. I clearly remember reading Lucy Maud Montgomery’s descriptions of Prince Edward Island sand saying to her, “I’m going to go there one day.”
“You have no idea how far away that is!” she replied.
“I don’t care. I’m going!” was my response.

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I finally did go to PEI and visited Green Gables in 2015, and I wished that I could have told Mum and shown her my photos. I believe she would have been genuinely happy for me, and proud that I had achieved something I had wanted to do since that young age.

I know my mother was proud of me for following her into teaching, and I know she would have been proud as punch of the fact that I became a writer, too.

My career as a poet and author, though, would have been far less likely to happen without the love for books and reading that Mum and Dad modelled and mentored for me, and for that I will always be thankful.

My first book was not born until almost five years after Mum graduated to heaven. I couldn’t write about her passing for several years afterwards, because it was too raw. When I did finish the poem that I wrote for her, I shared it with my father and siblings so that they could share my memory. If they hadn’t loved it, I wouldn’t have published it. They did, though, and it enabled me to share part of that last day of her life to which they were not witnesses.

Since ‘July 19, 2011’ was published in ‘Nova’, it has touched and encouraged many people who have lost their mums – and dads, and others close to them. When people tell me that my poetry has touched their heart or affected the way they think about something, that’s when I feel the most fulfilled as a poet. I’m really proud today that Mum’s poem can have that effect on someone else. Although she is gone, her legacy lives on, not just in my memory and my heart, but also in my writing.

It’s impossible to not miss my mother on days like today, and not a day passes that I don’t think of her.  So, for Mothers’ Day 2018, I want to share the poem I wrote for her with you. I hope you enjoy it and find it meaningful.

 

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RIP George Michael et al 2016

“RIP George Michael,
Another favourite gone…”

RIP George Michael,
Another favourite gone.
First Bowie, then Prince and Rickman
And then it was Leonard Cohen.
But Donald Trump is alive and well –
What drug has this year been on?

Book Review: ‘In Passing’ by Tobie Hewitt

“This delightful book opens with one of the best opening lines I’ve read in a long time …”

‘In Passing’ by Tobie Hewitt is a thought-provoking story that explores questions we often have about life, death, and how we find those soul mates  we know we’re meant to be with. The characters are just gorgeous, and the struggles they face are ones that the reader can easily identify with.
This delightful book opens with one of the best opening lines I’ve read in a long time : “The air shimmered with a knowing beyond doubt.”
That line really made me stop and think, and visualise scenes where this could have been the case. From that moment, I was fully engaged with the story and completely hooked by Tobie Hewitt’s writing.
Five stars, Tobie. Beautifully done.
 in-passing

Oh, Paris.

My heart is breaking for the people of Paris, the nation of France and all those who are grieving or sharing others’ grief because of the events that are unfolding there right now.

While we don’t know all the details, we do know and must remember these things:
Not every Muslim is responsible.
Not every refugee is responsible.
We must not engage in vitriol against either group of people;
nor should we tolerate others engaging in hatred against them.

To do so would be to lose our own integrity by lowering ourselves to doing exactly what the perpetrators hope we will do.

These heinous acts are down to a few extremists who hate freedom and resent anyone who dares to have it. It seems that in their world view, they are the only ones who should be allowed to do as they please.

I hope that Justice and Karma act swiftly. Whichever of them gets to those responsible first, that’s okay with me.

Broken.

You did… what?
That was you?

I’m stunned. I am horrified.
I don’t know what to make of this.
I never would have believed that of you.

You’re the one who speaks of unity and trust.
You’re the one who is supposed to look after us… to look after me.

You’re the leader. The protector. The mentor. The guide.
At least, I thought you were.

How can I trust you now?
There are shards and splinters of faith scattered all over the place.
The fine, toxic dust of of doubt is still in the air, settling slowly, tainting everything, choking the life out of the relationship between us.

You lied. You cheated. You schemed.
You took every opportunity to work things for your own benefit.
How carefully you wove the web of deceit, trying to camouflage your actions and to conceal the heart behind them.

As for unity… you chose to break that, too.
It was no accident. You knew exactly what you were doing.
At some point, you decided that your own interests are more important than our interests… that your future takes precedence over any shared future that we might have had.

Maybe you hoped that you could do what you did without anyone knowing.

Maybe you hoped that you could evade the consequences that were always going to be inevitable.
Maybe you thought that people would just trust you to do the right thing, and  that you wouldn’t face any questions.Could you really have believed that such betrayal could go unnoticed?
It’s impossible to imagine how.
Maybe that’s a confirmation of just how different we are.

Don’t tell me I don’t know anything about it.
Don’t tell me that it has nothing to do with me.
This has everything to do with me.

This has everything to do with how I look at you, how I respond to you, how I respect you.
Only now am I beginning to realise how little I ever knew you.
I always assumed you were genuine. I never questioned your integrity, or my loyalty to you.

That’s all changed.Everything has changed.
I don’t even want to be in the same room as you.
I don’t want to hear you try to rationalise what you’ve done.
And you certainly don’t want to hear anything I have to say to you.

Don’t tell me everything will be okay. It won’t.
Things will never be the same again.

The Other Kind Of Journey.

I’ve had enough of hospitals. Waiting, wondering, hoping, fearing. Staring at walls in various shades of white, surrounded by people in scrubs who are all hurrying to be somewhere else. Steeping in the tension and quietness of suspense, strongly brewed.

I’d like to be somewhere else. Of course, I have preferences, but I wouldn’t be too choosy about a change of locale right now. Perhaps not jail, though.

Yet I am held here by forces stronger than my desire to be gone: an eclectic mix of fear, grief, loyalty, duty and belonging, amongst which the balance of power alternates at a sometimes giddy rate.

I belong here with the family, yet I know it’s different for me. I’m the only in-law here, but he’s my dad too. I’m still as afraid as they are.

I know what it’s like to lose a parent, to say goodbye that last time while still not wanting them to go at all. The others don’t know that yet. I think they all realise, though, that whether he lives or dies, they will never be the same again.

They’re blessed to be here together. When my mum died, it was just her and me. My sisters and brother couldn’t get there in time, although they desperately wanted to. It was me who watched and waited and wept in that quiet room. I sang her hymns and prayed with her. She held my hand, even though she was not conscious, and even though she had long forgotten who I was, I knew something buried deep inside her remembered me. How I longed for my siblings then. It was unfair for all of us. I had to do it on my own, but I had precious, awful time with her that they did not.

I thought about that day a lot yesterday when I knew the others were together. I’m glad they can keep each other strong. I’m glad I am here with them today.

The ominous, helpless heaviness of waiting has wrapped its dreadful cloak around us. There is nothing to be done except remain there.